Few garments express an all-American sense of laid-back ruggedness quite as well as the denim jacket. Whether channeling the individuality of Paul Newman's “Cool Hand Luke” or the punk-rock edge of Debbie Harry, both men and women get plenty of mileage out of this time-tested piece, which lends it solid color and subtle texture especially well to pairing with rich prints or accenting with layers. For all its bold character, the denim jacket is also an incredibly versatile part of the wardrobe -- you can wear it with chinos to run errands or gussy it up for your next cocktail mixer.
Denim on Denim
Create contrast, especially when pairing denim with denim. Unless you're attending the annual lumberjack formal, avoid wearing your denim jacket with bottoms of the same shade. Pair a light-wash jacket with dark-wash jeans or a deeply dyed coat with colored denim bottoms in light gray or khaki.
Color and Texture
Pay attention to color and texture, erring on the side of natural and subdued. Denim is an earthy fabric, so pair it with neutrals or scaled-back colors, such as maroon or navy rather than eye-popping reds or blues. Denim loves textures such tweed and twill and accents brown leather accessories particularly nicely.
Layer like a pro with women's accessories such as flowing, lightweight scarves or for men, masculine, a tightly woven houndstooth scarf. A loose keffiyeh scarf does the trick for both guys and girls. For both sexes, a thermal under layer with a plaid or flannel shirt makes for a down-to-earth style, as does a hoodie-jacket combo. Matching a suede vest with your jacket and some well-fitting distressed jeans dresses things up just a tad.
Nice 'n' Easy
Sport a classic, unisex look with a denim jacket, contrasting jeans or chinos, a solid-colored tee and trainers, canvas kicks or boat shoes. Add interest to this look with equally timeless accessories such as a loose-knit scarf, tortoise-shell shades or a woven leather bracelet.
Ace the transitional seasons by pairing a denim jacket with summery styles. For women, a V-neck or loose blouse, solid-colored shorts and leather boots makes for a casual and transformable ensemble. Top things off with aviators or vintage-style frames on sunny days.
Dress down your dress. If your mini dress, shirt dress, maxi or A-line has you feeling a bit too formal, add a denim jacket, worn open. Cropped jackets work particularly well here, while dress prints such as paisley, floral or geometric patterns accent solid-colored denim. This look also works with rompers and blouse-skirt combos.
Tough Yet Formal
Embrace a formal look if you're seeking an alternative to traditional men's formal wear. Button up your denim jacket with a dress shirt, neutral-hued vest and tie for a style that balances casual and dressy. Set this look off with a bronze tie bar and brown leather loafers, socks optional.
Bending the Rules
Feel free to get loose -- run with the carefree vibe that your denim jacket naturally creates. Drape it over your shoulders with your arms inside the jacket at a spring party or sling it over one shoulder when it's time to dress down. Break up your top and bottom in nontraditional ways -- use a half-tucked gingham button-up or a naturally textured sash in place of a belt. Match the colors of your under layer with the trim of a dual-toned denim jacket for a bold look or roll the sleeves to keep cool.